The Anatomy of Emotional Warfare
Part III in a blog series on a new model of mental health and disorder.
Posted Feb 15, 2019
The previous two blogs (here and here) told the story of how I came to learn about Edward Kroger’s conception of Emotional Warfare and how the concept offers a powerful new way to explain much of psychopathology. As was noted in Part II, the key player in Emotional Warfare is the “False Self,” which refers to the negatively reinforcing strategies that we use to secure status and belonging and avoid being plunged into feelings of emotional desperation. This blog maps the concept in a clear schematic and also shows the remarkable correspondence between Kroger’s conception and my UTUA psychology. Keep in mind that we developed these systems completely independently and in completely different contexts. He developed his system based on his own (remarkably deep) self-taught conception of human conflict, and he proceeded to develop a consulting business based on it. My system emerged in the context of a deep dive into academic psychology, psychotherapy, and philosophy.
Here is Kroger’s map delineating the Anatomy of Emotional Warfare:
As noted in the prior blog, the developmental process starts with the broken trust event (and grows with subsequent broken trust events). Although Kroger generated this term independently, his research led him to recognize that Donald Winnicott generated the term first. The two meanings were similar, although Kroger’s was broader. For Winnicott, it was dependent on poor parenting, whereas for Kroger the development of the False Self is inevitable to some degree in all of us, as each of us experiences injuries and rejections (either by parents or peers), which set the stage for the emergence of the False Self’s search for perceived security. (Note, depending on one’s leanings toward a depth-psychoanalytic approach, the birthing event could itself be interpreted as the first broken trust event, as we are expunged from the safety of the womb into the dangerous world; see, e.g., here). The broken trust results in feelings of emotional desperation, and a profound sense of aloneness, abandonment and (deep existential) uncertainty. This can be thought of as a ‘the black hole of fear and panic and pain and death’. It is everything that we want to avoid and that our psychological defenses are designed to protect us from.
It is useful at this juncture to recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with physiological and safety needs at the base, and belonging and self-esteem needs in the middle. In recalling Maslow, we can usefully divide our needs in terms of our bio-physiological needs and our socio-emotional needs for belonging and status. As will become clear, the False Self is the part of us that is concerned with defending our status and belonging needs. The False Self represents the developmental strategies we learn in an effort to protect us from losses of status and belonging, which either lead to or at least signal the possibility of repeating our broken trust and emotional desperation.
The box next to the False Self is the EBSS, which in Kroger’s terminology stands for ‘Emotion-Based Survival Skills.’ Kroger divides the EBSS’s into two domains, which, as we will see, are intimately interrelated. One is the “Perceived Security” domain, which refers to the specific roles and tactics that one uses in context to maintain status and security based on the social relations and expectations and family rules and cultural demands and so forth. In other words, it refers to the social roles and procedures that are acceptable and reinforced or unacceptable and thus punished when shown in a social context.
Kroger refers to the other EBSS domain as “Emotional Traits” and labels them Inflated A (masculine) and Inflated B (feminine). As we will see, Kroger’s analysis lines up with the UTUA system, although I use a slightly different language. For me, I distinguish between “content” and “process.” The roles and tactics refer more to the content of our characteristic ways of adapting. In contrast, the Inflated A and B refer to the self-other relational processes involved. This process versus content distinction will become clearer in a moment.
For now, the point here is that we have a map of the False Self. The False Self is the defensive armor shaped by the principles of negative reinforcement designed to protect the individual from loss of status and belonging. It starts with broken trust and grows with any additional core injuries. Why exactly this is the root of much psychopathology will become clear, especially when we get into the nature of the True Self. But a quick reminder of some of the examples in the past two blogs should convince us we are on the right path. First, consider Edward identifying my competitive, "Inflated A edge.” I could readily introspect and see that that edge was connected to some wounds and resentment I was compensating for. Then consider Andre Agassi and his struggles with tennis, given how his father created massive pressure on him to achieve tennis greatness to satisfy his own needs for status. He clearly struggled mostly with an Inflated A dynamic. In contrast, my patient Maggie Nelson (whose case is described here), with her social anxiety, and avoidance of rejection or criticism, engaged in the opposite strategy, but for the same purpose. She tried to achieve security by avoiding conflict or judgments from others, and preemptively attacked herself, to force submission and avoidance.
By linking Kroger’s Anatomy map with the maps in UTUA psychology, we can achieve additional clarity. The most obvious linkage is between this map and the Influence Matrix. The Matrix maps the socio-emotional motives and self-other process dimensions. The center diagonal “Black Line” on the Matrix refers to the RV-SI line, which stands for ‘Relational Value and Social Influence’. The lower right and upper left boxes refer to “archetypal templates” for low and high RV-SI. That is, templates for being rejected, abandoned criticized or disrespected on the one hand, or being valued, honored, loved, held in a position of high esteem on the other. The broken trust leading to emotional desperation refers to the core (early) injuries that sear these events into our being and result in us wanting to avoid them in the future. In the next blog, we will come back to the relationship between the True Self and the high relational value box.
The Influence Matrix also overlaps directly with Kroger’s notion of primary emotional traits. In the language of the Matrix, with the Inflated A conception Kroger is identifying the “Upper Left/Self-Over-Other Quadrant.” This style of relating is characterized by the motives of dominance and autonomy, and the negatively reinforcing motive of hostility, along with feeling states like pride, anger, and hate/contempt. His Inflated B corresponds to the “Lower Right/Other-Over-Self Quadrant.” This involves motives of affiliation and dependency, and the negatively reinforcing tendency toward submission, along with feeling states like love, guilt, and shame. Keep in mind that the Matrix does not specifically depict “inflated” dynamics. However, the two stories that open this chapter on the Influence Matrix note, the idea of Inflated A and Inflated B ways of being is completely consistent with the model.
Going to the bottom of the Anatomy of EW map allows us to make a few clarifications. First and foremost, there is the black box labeled “Emotional Warfare.” This highlights the fact that not everything we do to preserve our status or belonging is an example of Emotional Warfare. Put another way, the False Self is not equivalent to EW. However, EW emerges out of the context of the strategies, tactics and processes deployed by the False Self under certain stressful circumstances. These circumstances become clear when we add one more very important piece of this puzzle, which refers to the fact that EW can take place either inside us (i.e., intrapsychically, named Emotional Warfare Prison Level 1) or between people (i.e., interpersonally, named EW Prison Level 2).
As I have learned in dialoguing with Edward, there are many reasons why the False Self is so labeled. One reason is found in the label of the orange box of “Perceived Security.” The False Self operates on negative reinforcement, meaning it is about avoiding things. Although we do, of course, need to sometimes pragmatically avoid threats, organizing our lives to avoid loss of status and belonging is ultimately fruitless because one gets no sustainable psychological nourishment from it. That is, it ultimately leaves one empty and vulnerable. Think of the socially anxious person whose False Self convinces him to avoid a party. Yes, in the short term, he avoids the anticipated awkwardness and feared loss of status. Yet, after the relief of the safety behavior is realized, then what? Emptiness, loneliness and existential guilt and regret of what could have been.
Another reason it is called the False Self has to do with a very important feature of our psychology that was alluded to above, which is the fact that we have socio-emotional lives that exist in both public and private spaces. That is, part of the human condition is that we can create vast differences between what we show to others and what we feel and think inside. Recall that the primary function of the False Self is to protect ourselves from the loss of status and belonging and not lose social influence. When we link these two concepts, we arrive at one of the most important insights regarding psychopathology, social psychology, and microsociology. This is the insight noted by many of the private to public divide. As described in the work of Erving Goffman in the Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, we can play act and manage our impressions. Or the words of Carl Jung, we develop a persona, which works as "a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual." Similarly, we can think of Carl Rogers seminal work on the nature of conditional love and how that created splits in people, such that many people become alienated from their real or true selves, and instead attempt to live up to a false or social or ideal self, in efforts to be loved.
The point here is that the nature and shape of the False Self is intimately intertwined with the fact that we can hide aspects of our selves and show other aspects in the service of status and belonging. Unfortunately, however, doing so creates tensions and conflicts and requires the development of defenses. If we turn to the map of adult human consciousness in UTUA, we can see just how complicated this process is. There are three primary domains of human consciousness: 1) the nonverbal experiential system; 2) the private self-conscious narrator system; and 3) the public self (i.e., the image we attempt to convey to others).
The UTUA system makes clear how and why these systems can be in intense conflict with each other. Consider, for example, a teenager that begins to experience homosexual urges (experiential self) but lives in a social context in which homosexuality is strongly condemned. As puberty results in a burgeoning sex drive, the urges create a profound private-public dilemma. To maintain status and belonging, the individual must hide these feelings from others and thus present a “false self.” What happens to many youth is that they first deal with these urges via self-attack from the private self-narrator, meaning they tell themselves that what they are feeling is not really what they are feeling and try to force themselves to feel differently, often with harsh critical thoughts. This gives rise to an intense conflict between the experiential, private and public domains of being. In other words, the stage is set for Emotional Warfare.
My hope is that the picture of Emotional Warfare is beginning to crystalize. I encourage folks to begin to map their own lives with this lens. Indeed, as we will see, the ultimate key to reducing Emotional Warfare is to be found in our collective willingness to shine the light on our hearts and learn the ways in which we have been imprisoned by our own False Self needs to defend our egos against threats which are experienced with the added intensity of the echoes of our past injuries.
At this juncture I also want to embrace a healthy skepticism of the model. As is undoubtedly clear, I am very excited about this potential of this model. As such, let’s take a moment and honestly reflect on what we are looking at. First and foremost, there will likely be the “this is nothing new” reaction from some. Indeed, for a better part of a century, psychologists, psychotherapists and others have been talking about false self and ego defenses and the need for belonging and the like. This leads to the possibility (and thus potentially legitimate criticism) that what is good about the model is old and what is new is suspect.
Second, let’s also immediately recognize the legitimate “empirical” critique. “Where are the data?” my clinical science colleagues will appropriately ask.
Third, there are serious questions about the value of this formulation, in terms of how it couches emotional conflict and struggle, and in terms of how it sets the stage for treatment of mental disorder. These questions and many, many more are to be embraced. Authentic skepticism (as opposed to False Self defensive rejection) is a good thing in the search for the Truth. Edward and I fully recognize that this system is in its infancy in terms of the scientific process. It makes many claims that need to be explored, and we are embarking on a journey to do just that.
To appreciate why I am so enthusiastic in my desire to share this model, it is helpful to know that my primary professional identities are as a theorist and a clinician. Thus, I look for two things. Deep conceptual coherence and clarity, usually referenced against the UTUA Framework. Second, I look for real world application and empirical evidence in the old fashioned since of the word. That is, when it is applied in real world settings to real people does it “work.” On both accounts I have been deeply impressed with the system, and that is what is generating my enthusiasm. To fully appreciate why I am so excited about this potential, we need to turn to nature of the True Self and the philosophy of closing of the One Divide.
In making this move, we must keep in mind the organization of our knowledge of mental illness and human flourishing. The field of psychology—struggling as it does with conceptual fragmentation—more or less completely divides mental illness/disorder from “positive” psychology and human flourishing. As Paul Wong effectively argues with his powerful call for a “Positive Psychology 2.0,” the early version of positive psychology basically split off from “negative” psychology as if the two weren’t related.
Psychiatry, with its commitment to the categorical mental disease model, does the exact inverse of Positive Psychology 1.0. It divides the disordered off from the healthy. As my good friend, the retired professor of pathophysiology, Dr. Waldermar Schmidt, MD, PhD, noted to me when he contrasted the field of psychiatry relative to the rest of medicine this is a very important limitation. He explained it as follows: “The first thing I learned in studying diseases of the liver was how a healthy liver functioned, which served as a powerful reference point. Now, as I try to learn the diseases of the mind, psychiatry only gives me a vague conception of “normal” (as in the absence of disease), but nowhere is there a clear model of the healthy, flourishing human mind in the DSM.”
Indeed. But, now, with a new metaphor and a new map, we might be able to change all of that. Seeing that much psychopathology is more like warfare than is like a disease, we are in a place to see its antithesis in a new light. And, as the name implies, the True Self is, in many ways, the diametric opposite of the False Self. Whereas the False Self sets the stage for conflict and, in many case, full blown Emotional Warfare, the True Self sets the stage for harmony and emotional peace and freedom.